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USA Science & Engineering Festival – Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement

Fazlur R. Khan

Fazlur R. Khan -- Bangladeshi Structural Engineer and Architect

One of the most influential structural engineers of the 20th Century; the Father of tubular designs for high-rises

You may readily recognize some his most famous works as a structural design engineer: the John Hancock Center building in Chicago; Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower); the Hajj Terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. In his short lifetime, Fazlur Khan, perhaps more than any other individual, combined his love for structural engineering, architecture and art to usher in a revolution in skyscraper construction during the second half of the twentieth century, making it possible for people to live and work in "cities in the sky."

Born in 1929 in Dhaka, Bangladesh (then British India), Fazlur was brought up in the village of Bhandarikandii, Faridpur district near Dhaka. His father Abdur was a well-respected high school mathematics teacher and the author of several seminal textbooks on the subject, and eventually became the Director of Public Instruction in the region of Bengal. After completing his undergraduate courses and degree in engineering, Fazlur came to the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship, combined with a Pakistani government scholarship.

Why He's Important: Fazlur "Faz" Khan stands as one of the foremost structural engineers of the 20th century. His breakthroughs in structural engineering for tall and long-span buildings exerted an unprecedented and lasting influence on the profession, both nationally and internationally. Often referred to as the Einstein of Structural Engineering", Fazlur is best known for introducing the concept of tubular designs for high-rises -- structural methods that used more efficient building materials and design which resulted in tall buildings resisting lateral loads (horizontal forces such as wind forces and seismic forces) more effectively. Most buildings over 40 stories high that have been constructed since the 1960s now use a tube design derived from Fazlur's structural engineering principles.

Other Achievements: He designed some of the most impressive buildings in America and in other parts of the world. Among them: Chicago's Willis Tower building (formerly known as the Sears Tower) which at the time it was built in 1973 (standing 1,451-feet and boasting 108 stories of steel) was the tallest building in the world. Today it currently ranks as the tallest building in America, but will soon be eclipsed in height by the new One World Trade building in New York City when this structure officially opens next year, standing 1,776-feet over the Manhattan skyline. Fazlur, who became a naturalized American citizen in 1967, is also responsible for designing notable buildings in Bangladesh, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Education: After completing undergraduate coursework at the Bengal Engineering College, University of Calcutta, Fazlur proceeded to the University of Dhaka, where he received his Bachelor's degree in engineering degree in 1950, finishing first in his class. He then came to the U.S. to pursue advanced studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana. In three short years he earned two Master's degrees - one in structural engineering and another in theoretical and applied mechanics - and later his PhD. in structural engineering.

In His Own Words: Fazlur enjoyed combining a healthy dose of philosophy with his work and how he viewed the world: "Think logically and find the relationships which exist in every system, because it will help you understand nature itself, making living more meaningful and exciting," he said. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52 in 1982 while on a business trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is buried in Chicago, ILL.

 

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